Tiffany’s is synonymous with diamond jewellery. The brand gets a mention in the Marilyn Monroe classic song ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, and a starring role in the Audrey Hepburn film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Today, antique engagement rings from Tiffany & Co. are a treasured find. But when the first Tiffany’s opened in New York City in 1837, jewellery was only a small part of the emporium’s stock. And in their early days, Tiffany & Co. was known more for silver than diamond jewellery.
Charles Tiffany and his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law John Young moved from small-town Connecticut to New York City to open a store. Tiffany had experience in his father’s shop, where he had worked since he was a teenager. His father loaned him $1,000, and he and Young began selling stationery and gifts. They brought in a third partner, J.L. Ellis, in 1941, and in 1948 they began making silver jewellery. Tiffany was the driving force behind the USA adopting the British standard of 92% purity for silver. In 1853, Charles Tiffany bought out his partners and put the company on a course that would link it with the most exquisite diamond jewellery.
While Tiffany & Co. is credited with being the first real American school of design, those designs were embraced around the world. The brand soon opened a store in Paris and won the grand prize for silver craftsmanship in the 1867 Paris World’s Fair. London and Geneva were among the first European cities to boast a Tiffany shop. Today, those early pieces are sought-after antique engagement rings.
From the beginning, Tiffany was passionate about designing jewellery with a distinctive new look inspired by nature. The American landscape with its dense forests, towering mountains and open skies proved to be an excellent muse. Tiffany’s celebrated designer, the silversmith and art collector Edward C. Moore, encouraged his apprentices to get outdoors and sketch nature. He amassed a huge collection of such sketches himself, which also inspired his apprentices.
TIFFANY’S DID NOT INVENT THE ENGAGEMENT RING, BUT THE BRAND CAN CLAIM TO HAVE REINVENTED IT.
Diamonds and other gems had traditionally been set in bezels, special grooves designed to hold them. Tiffany wanted to expose the diamond to more light to better show off its brilliance. The company developed a new type of setting that lifted the stones up out of the setting to better capture the light. Although its technical name is ‘prong setting’ this has become known as a ‘Tiffany setting’. You can find Tiffany classic engagement rings with both bezels and their signature Tiffany settings.
Charles Tiffany set his brand of stunning jewellery apart by always seeking the unusual and the unique. Sourcing distinctive materials was a passion of his. Today, the Tiffany brand is still selling gorgeous diamond jewellery around the world. But if you want to follow Charles Tiffany’s lead and find something really spectacular, look for older pieces of Tiffany’s jewellery such as Tiffany classic engagement rings, eternity rings, bracelets and necklaces.